Body modification is transforming of the general human body make-up for a variety of reasons. This act has been going on for several years and the two common reasons behind modification are ritualistic and aesthetic reasons. Body modification manifests itself is various ways that have deemed to be limitless. Societal taboos and aesthetic expectations have a great impact on the nature of body modifications. Traditionally, body modification or body art was permanent. It was mainly used as an identification tool, for magical protection, social status and as a representation for social maturity.
According to anthropologists, body modification is common in virtually all cultures globally. For example the African culture has lip stretching, neck stretching, ear stretching, piercing and scarification as the common body modification procedures. In the current society, body modification serves various functions. Some of them include, an expression of spirituality, a way of expressing oneself, beauty purposes, a rite of passage, a critique of the large society’s aesthetic values and finally for sub-cultural identification purposes. With the advancing technology, there are several societies that are now integrating technology in the incumbent modes of body art.
A good example of a body modification form that integrates technology is tattoos that are reactive to ultraviolet energy (Stirn and Hinz, May 2008).In ancient times, body modification ere necessary for identification purposes. They were used to differentiate the main culture from other sub-cultures that existed. Some body modification practices were accepted in the mainstream culture while others were unacceptable. Therefore, those people who practiced the unacceptable body modification practices were considered to fall into the category of other sub-cultures and not the mainstream culture.
They were more like outcasts, who were socially unaccepted. The need for cultural identity was therefore the reason behind traditional body modification practices (Stirn, May 2008).One of the pros associated with body modification is that it enhances beauty and generally improves an individual’s physical appearance. For example earlobe stretching and ear piercing were done traditionally done by many women who considered the act as a symbol of beauty. In the modern age, body modification is considered as a form of fashion accessory. People modify their bodies so that they can fit into a given social group or to be associated with a certain societal class (Albin, February 2006).
Traditionally, body modifications were beneficial because they served as a form of protection. For instance, the origin of tattooing is linked with practices whose role was to harmonize human souls with the supernatural forces in order to make sure that there was continual of life after death. In the modern society young people tattoo themselves so that they can gain social acceptance. Moreover, tattooing is a means through which such individuals can express their thoughts, feelings and ideas. The other point that is worth noting about tattooing as a form of body modification is that is promotes enables one to achieve a personal identity as well as uniqueness (Martin, 2001).
The other benefit of tattoos is that they help in creating an outer identity. They are more like metaphors, representing the things that people may desire to have or achieve but lack the ability to have them. An example is a girl who decides to have the same tattoo as her mother so that they could be close. This girl’s desires are to have a close connection or link with her mother. Since she cannot have that close relationship intrinsically, she decides to use a tattoo to represent that closeness. In this case, the tattoo gives the girl a form of self-satisfaction and the much-desired connection between her and her mother. Tattoo images act as metaphors or symbols for things that individuals long for but cannot achieve them then.
Cosmetic surgery is the other form of body modification that is beneficial since it enables a person to gain societal acceptance. This form of modification is often associated with the rich or the upper-class people. Such people are often associated with wealth and fame and hence spend huge chunks of money in an attempt to modify their bodies through cosmetic surgery. The surgery is extremely costly and reserved for the rich. It is therefore common to find a person going it the extreme of letting a surgeon work on a nose, lip and many other body parts in order to gain social acceptance (Albin, February 2006).Body modifications were a form of symbolism that was used to convey a given message or idea. A good example is starving oneself with the aim of losing weight.
The other example is making bodily additions through cosmetic surgery and augmentation. All these are more like ways through which the body communicates or conveys a message by use of symbols. This implies that body modifications can be used by people who greatly desire to express themselves or convey their feelings to other people. The inner feelings can be outwardly expressed through the use of body modification (Stirn, May 2008).There are some body modification practices that are thought to act as a means through which people could overcome their fears and get adrenalin and spiritual enlightenment.
Suspension is one from of body modification that can achieve the mentioned roles. This form of modification is defined as the act that involves suspending an individual’s body from hooks that are pierced through the skin on various body parts. Many people view suspension as a learning experience that enables them to get through their phobias and nourish them spiritually (Stirn, May 2008).Despite having various roles and importance, there are various cons or demerits associated with body modifications.
Several of the modification practices have been under criticisms due to the disastrous effects that they cause. In the modern era, the media portray perfect images that are unrealistic and extremely challenging to achieve. This is what drives most of the people especially the young people to go through the extremes in an attempt to attain the perceived perfect image. The extremities that such people go through involve intense pain (Martin, 2001).There are some body modification practices that were traditionally considered to represent delinquency and criminal acts. A good example is the tattoos that were deemed to be associated with criminals.
According to Adolf Hitler, tattooed individuals who were not behind bars were either degenerate aristocrats or criminals. This implies that such body modifications created a negative impression about a person. The other evidence is from a psychiatrist named Armando Favazza who argues that majority of individual especially the non-conformists got tattoos as a symbol of defying authority and aggressiveness. Moreover, many research studies have shown a connection between tattoos and a personality that is antisocial. Moreover, they represented a rising incidences of impulsiveness, assault acts and difficulties in acclimatizing to heterosexuality.
There are some form of body modification practices that expose the body to great risks of infection and skin damage. Suspension is an example of such practice. During suspension, hooks are pierced through the flesh or skin. There is a great possibility of contacting infections through those hooks, which may be contaminated. The other risk involved is the development of wounds that may cause great damage to the skin. This in turn may result to general disfiguration of the body and damaging of body tissues. There are even some people who have gone to the extreme of losing their lives as a result of body modifications (Stirn, May 2008).
The other negative fact associated with body modification is that they may lead to transmission of sexually transmitted disorders. Tattooing is a good example especially in cases where the needles used in the procedure are shared. During tattooing, needles are injected into the skin and there is a possibility of them coming into contact with infected blood. Consequently, this may lead to transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. For this reasons, there are various regulations and rules that require tattoo artists to be very careful to ensure that needles are not shared.
Sterilization is also recommendable since this would enable the killing of microorganisms that are responsible for transmitting diseases (Martin, 2001).Some critics have argues that low self-esteem and lack of self-gratification is what drives some people into undergoing extreme body modifications. Such people are not always content with their body images and desire to transform them so that they can achieve self-satisfaction. This is what drives people into going through painful surgical procedures in order to get rid of some of the flesh or add some more with the hope of attaining a desired body image.
Through cosmetic surgery, people go through great pain that may at times lead to trauma. People are in dire need of gaining social acceptance and go to the extremes of piercing and cutting their flesh (Albin, February 2006). The other demerit associated with body modification is that they may spoil the employment prospects of an individual. There are some organizations or companies that would never attempt to hire persons with body modification such as tattoos. This is due to the notion that such individuals may be criminals and may not show commitment in their jobs. Since tattoos have traditionally been associated with deviance behavior, the same case may apply to a work setting. Employers may view potential employees with tattoos as potential criminals or deviant persons (Stirn, May 2008).
Some body modification practices may result to scarring and creation of permanent marks on the human body. An example is a case that involved a patient who had an implant as a form of body modification. The patient’s cheek has a screw implant with the end of the skin exposed through the skin. After some time, the skin got infected and the screw implant had to be removed for the patient to be treated. This act left a permanent mark or scar on the patient’s face. This is a true illustration of the negative effect that body modifications such as implant could have on an individual’s body or skin (Albin, February 2006).
When body modification is done with the intention of gaining social acceptance, it means that a person is letting other people control his or her life. This is not a good thing since everyone is entitled to taking charge of their own lives. Human beings should be autonomous being who act through freewill. They have the ability to make their own decisions or choices. Moreover, they have the power to differentiate between what is acceptable and unacceptable. It is therefore inappropriate for one person or a group of people to dictate on what is socially acceptable and what is not socially acceptable.
This is the case with the societal expectations in terms of body modifications. There are some forms of modifications such as cosmetic surgery that are deemed to be preserved for the wealthy, famous and high-class people. For these reason, many people would give anything including going through traumatizing procedures in order to earn the desired social recognition and acceptance (Martin, 2001). There are extreme body modifications that are considered a taboo and have raised several controversies. A good example is voluntary amputations, where individuals choose to get rid of one or more of their body parts willingly through a surgical procedure.
Such individuals get rid of their body parts without any medical reason. This may led to permanent suffering and disability where some may be confined to wheelchairs for the rest of their lives. Moreover, the amputated body parts may leave wounds and permanent scars that may act as a source of infection or contacting disease transmitting microorganisms and pathogens (Martin, 2001).Anorexia is considered as form of non-surgical body modification. There have been several cases reported concerning anorexic adolescents who go to the extent of not eating in order to lose weight.
Such individuals deprive they body of the essential nutrients required for normal body functioning. They end up becoming extremely weak and compromising their immune system. A compromised immune system exposes such people to the risk of contacting diseases that may lead to disastrous consequences including death. The reason for increased cases of anorexia is the media and general societal expectation and perception of a perfect body image. A perfect body image is perceived to be thin and this is what drives adolescents to develop eating disorders including anorexia (Stirn, May 2008).
There are various medical implications and health issues associated with extreme body modification procedures commonly called mutilation. Majority of extreme body artists do not have a formal medical training and for this reason, it is the role of people undergoing the procedure to take responsibility of their medical and health safety. Scalpelling is a good example of body modification procedure that should be done professionally by people with a formal medical training. This is due to the need to sterilize the scalpels used so that they do not result to serious health complications (Albin, February 2006).
In conclusion, it is clear that body modification was a traditional means of cultural identification. In the modern era, body modifications are metaphors or symbols through which people express their feelings and convey various ideas and messages. It is however important to note that the body modifications may have serious medical and health implications. It is therefore important for individuals to think and carefully weigh the available option prior to undergoing body modification procedures, especially extreme body modifications. An analysis of the benefits versus the risks involved should be done.
Albin, D. D. (February 2006). Making the body (w) hole. A semiotic exploration of body modifications. Psychodynamic Practice, 12(1), 19-35
Interview with Steve Hayworth Body modification implant specialist, retrieved from www.BME.FreeQ.com/people/htc.html
Martin, M. L. (2001). Body Modification and Its Relation to Religiosity and Spirituality. Micah Martin
Stirn, A., & Hinz, A. (May 2008). Tattoos, body piercing, and self-injury. Is there a connection? Investigations on a core group of participants practicing body modifications. Psychotherapy Research, 18(3), 326-333